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Arthritis on the agenda at party conferences

Published on 11 October 2017
Arthritis Research UK team on the stand

The policy, public affairs and campaigns team (PPA) has been raising recognition of arthritis at four key political party conferences: Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives and the Scottish National Party.

Alongside our Chief Executive, Liam O’Toole, staff attended various high profile events and round tables, and for the first time, at Labour and Conservative conferences, we also had an exhibition stand:

  • showcasing hard hitting stats about the impact of arthritis
  • providing copies of our Prevent, Transform, Cure manifesto, with key asks for MPs
  • providing local statistics for MPs to learn about prevalence in their area
  • offering delegates the opportunity to try on an arthritis glove and discover what it can be like to have some functional limitation in their hand
  • and giving out information leaflets for people who wanted to know more.

Bobbie Hough, campaigner Shona and Bill Grant MP for the Conservative party‘The PPA team were lucky enough to be joined at Labour conference by Frances, and at Conservative conference by Bobbie, who both live with arthritis.

After her day talking to delegates, Frances shared: “It was a privilege to support the Arthritis Research UK team at this year’s Labour conference. I’ve lived with rheumatoid arthritis since I was diagnosed at 23, and I was excited to have the opportunity to speak to delegates and MPs about the issues. I think it’s really important that those responsible for making decisions get to meet, and hear from, people living with arthritis. I wanted them to understand the day to day realities many of us deal with, for example how it can feel taking hours to get ready for work, struggling with buttons, and not being able to put on my tights.

Frances with Debbie Abrahams‘When Shadow Ministers stopped by, it felt like the 'pitch in the lift' moment when you had to convey a lot of important information in a very short space of time! A key conversation I had was with the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Debbie Abrahams, where we discussed the importance of employer support to enable people with musculoskeletal conditions to continue working. I know from personal experience that sometimes small adjustments can make a big difference. I also spoke to lots of MPs and delegates about the huge impact to the economy of working days lost, as well as the impact arthritis can have on mental health and self-esteem. The day passed in a whirl and was a fantastic experience.’

Over 200 campaigners asked their MPs in advance to meet with us during conference, and many MPs specifically mentioned contact from their constituents being the reason for their visit, including Douglas Ross (Moray), Alex Chalk (Cheltenham), Bill Grant (Ayr Carrick and Cumnock), Alex Cunningham (Stockton North), and Stephen Timms (East Ham).

Jeremy Corbyn MP with Dr Liam O'TooleIn addition, we spoke to Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, David Gauke, who visited the stand at Conservative conference, as well as members of the Shadow Cabinet at Labour Conference, including the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who agreed to meet with people affected by arthritis in his constituency.

Shona Cleland, Arthritis Research UK’s Public Affairs Manager, said: ‘It was fantastic to meet so many MPs, peers, councillors and party members who wanted to understand how they can support people with arthritis on a local and national level. Many were shocked to hear about the impact that arthritis can have on the individual and wider society. I’m confident that new and existing Arthritis Champions will help us speak up for people with arthritis in Parliament and bring about real change.’

Our time at party conference resulted in 16 new MPs signing up to be Arthritis Champions in Parliament, as well as numerous MPs, including Shadow Secretaries of State, agreeing to meet with us in Westminster. You can find out if your MP is an Arthritis Champion and, if not, ask them to be one. Just visit the campaign page on our website. With this new larger group of Arthritis Champions, from across the political spectrum, we have a real opportunity to influence policies and legislation.

We also met with hundreds of people who were affected by arthritis, and those interested in our key issues. We’re pleased to report nearly 250 people joined our campaigner network to help us create positive change. If you’re interested to find out more about how you can be involved, you can sign up on our website.

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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.